Agent reflections: New Year,
While many of us have new found hope for 2021 following the news that there are a number of viable vaccinations being distributed at speed all over the world, January 2021 has already brought us a fair number of challenges:
As the new UK and South African strains of the virus sweep through our populations, trepidation and caution return when looking at upcoming engagements for our artists. Understandably, new lockdowns have returned throughout Europe, and policy changes continue on entry restrictions, testing requirements and quarantine demands. Keeping on top of the ever changing legislation is a job in itself. As managers, we are checking various government websites on a daily basis to ensure the rules have not changed, that adequate tests are arranged and that everybody is acting safely and responsibly, in order to retain as many engagements as possible.
Overhead, more clouds continue to gather, we also see major theatres cancelling productions through the coming months. Just this week we saw that Zurich Opera are not opening their doors again until March, that Berlin will not reopen until after Easter at the earliest, and that Paris Opera have closed a number of major productions due to be performed this month. It could be argued that we should not be surprised by now, but the disappointment lingers regardless, particularly as some of these engagements were key moments in the careers of our artists: role debuts, house debuts, collaborations with exciting directors, conductors and colleagues - and those are the lucky ones! For others, these engagements were the only hope in covering their family’s outgoings for the coming months.
Just as the bells rang in the New Year, we heard the news that musicians have been left off the list of UK workers who qualify for visa-free travel in the EU. After freedom of movement ended on 31 December 2020, we all expected that musicians would be given a mechanism that would allow them to continue travelling to the EU to work. Without it, and without a comprehensive arrangement in place, the music profession overnight found itself dealing with 27 different entry requirements for each of the 27 EU countries. As an agent, I find myself having to check and double check the rules: whilst some countries allow entry without paperwork for engagements up to 30 days in length (and others 90 days), some countries require a work permit upfront which can take days if not weeks to apply for and receive. For the time being therefore, jump-ins in these countries are no longer possible, and this is devastating for our artists whose incomes have already been dramatically reduced over the past 12 months.
The lack of visa free travel is an enormous blow for our industry more widely, effecting organisations and individuals who rely on touring for essential income. The new demand for paperwork and permits requires hours of additional administration for each individual artist, but imagine what the new demands might be for a UK orchestra touring abroad. Some orchestras on tour can require a team of 75 musicians and management, and it is possible that every single person from that tour party requires a work permit for one or more city on a tour. This is simply not viable, and could halt upcoming touring plans for our great UK orchestras, many of whom rely on foreign tours to supplement their income. This is without taking into account the other possible post-Brexit imposition of visa fees, carnets, certification of the value of instruments etc.
We have to believe that our government will revisit this huge issue and find a workable solution, but the prospect of restricted travel, is hugely worrying for the cultural sector.
However, 2021 IS going to get better. Whilst many theatres and orchestras are still unable to look to the future yet in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, others are slowly trying to build new collaborations into their future seasons, which is hugely uplifting for artists and agents alike. I have also found a renewed sense of collaboration and solidarity with my colleagues in all areas of the music industry. It is as though we know that we are all trying our best to rebuild and work together. At times I have found this mutual support deeply moving.
Furthermore, the end is in sight. The idea of an effective vaccine is no longer a dream, but a reality, and the prospect of our nations slowly unfurling and coming back to life is coming ever closer.
Undoubtedly we still have difficult months ahead, but we will come through it and rebuild our sector for the future, together.